Elementary: The Ghost Line

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ElementaryTheGhostLine200Written by Adam Christopher — Because of all the hype surrounding the BBC’s Sherlock, and the popularity of it’s lead actors Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, it almost feels like sacrilege to point out that the best Holmes and Watson currently on television appear in an American import called Elementary. Holmes, played with joyful brio by Johnny Lee Miller, is a consultant to the NYPD, and Dr Joan Watson (Lucy Liu) is a disgraced surgeon employed initially as his live-in sober companion but who develops into his apprentice.

In comparison to Sherlock, Elementary is faster paced, and benefits from the male-female dynamic of its stars, though there is a deliberate absence of will-they-won’t-they. It has fewer references to the original Conan Doyle canon, but is considerably less pleased with itself. Of course not everything from the original template has been ripped up. Holmes remains a temperamental genius prone to keeping secrets, and Watson is still a loyal and steadfast, if sometimes exasperated, friend.

Previously a science fiction author, Adam Christopher’s first foray into straightforward crime is a tie-in novelisation with a mystery not told in any of the TV episodes. It begins, excitingly enough, with Holmes and Watson called to a locked-room mystery. Liam Macnamara, 45 and recently let go as a driver on the subway, has been found murdered in his Hell’s Kitchen apartment. There are three clues: a large amount of cash hidden in the bread bin, no obvious sign of entry nor exit for the killer, and a ticket to the gala launch of the new pre-Columbian gold exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History.

It doesn’t take Holmes long to deduce that the killers’ route in and out of the flat was via the sewer system and the detective duo agree a plan of action. Holmes shall investigate the sewer/subway angle with some contacts of his in the urban exploring world, and Watson will attend the gala night at the museum. Holmes is separated from his colleague during their explorations but does find evidence that other people have been using the sewers, and their tracks lead him to beneath the museum.

Meanwhile, Watson is surprised to find that the curator of the exhibition is Macnamara’s sister, and whilst she is still unaware of her brother’s death, certainly seems to be under a lot of pressure. She appears to be under supervision from a number of discreetly armed men in tuxedo’s who follow her every move at a distance, and listen in to all of her conversations with the other guests.

Basically Adam Christopher provides a faithful translation of the show to the page. In particular, Watson’s character benefits from the extra agency afforded her, and there is a real sense of teamwork between them. However, many of the elements which make a 60 TV show so successful – telegenic stars, relatively straightforward plots which are heavy on action but a little light on deduction – provide for less satisfaction in a novel. This is no fault of the author, but sadly how it is.

Whilst never boring, The Ghost Line doesn’t linger long in the memory, and I would point this book more towards fans of the show or more casual readers of crime fiction, which is probably exactly whom it is targeted at.

Titan Books

CFL Rating: 3 Stars

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